On the 10th of October the LiteraACTION conference took place in the CCCB of Barcelona to celebrate the end of the European project Engage! Young Producers. This project, financed by the Creative Europe programme of the European Union, was led by PEN Català with Det Fria Ordets Hus in Växjö (Sweden), Krakowskie Festiwalowe in Krakow (Poland), and the National Centre for Writing in Norwich (UK).
As the website says "Engage! Young Producers seeks to promote the participation of young underrepresented groups in literary-cultural life as a way to empower them and foster critical thinking and a better understanding of multicultural realities."
"...and building bridges between education and culture," added Judit Carrera (director of the CCCB) during the official welcome. "Young people are often excluded, but those that accompany us today have founded publishing houses, organitzed festivals..." explained Àngels Gregori (president of PEN Català). She also said that this project has helped them to warm up for the hundredth anniversary of the organization, in two years time.
Gemma Rodríguez, coordinator of Engage!, thanked everyone for being there for this fantastic project. "Today you will see a small sample of the projects we have gathered," she said, and encouraged us to enter the official website to learn more about it:
She also announced that some high school students from l'IES Viladomat in Barcelona, who were with us at the auditorium, would evaluate the conferences. Finally, the director of the Institution of Catalan Letters, Oriol Ponsatí-Murlà, claimed that "such events as today's are basic. Culture is a tool of social transformation, and we must stop it from being just a motto and start believing it. Our challenge is to understand the difference and integrate it with normality to stop seeing it as a rarity. Culture is necessary to integrate this diversity because we are ALL different."
The first speaker was the award-winning writer and teacher Kate Clanchy, who uses poetry as a healing tool. According to her, Oxford is more than the idyllic headquarters of education that many people know, because it is surrounded by "a big ugly city." 80% of her students are immigrants, and, according to her, "a poem is a bridge between both Oxfords."
Clanchy teaches all these girls and boys to write poetry, and in 2018 she published an anthology with their poems called "England: Poems from a School". During her speech, she explained the heartbreaking stories of some of her persevering students. Many of them have gained scholarships, and one of them has managed to speak at the United Nations. "I couldn't be prouder" she said, and stated that the English students are the ones that do worse, because they don't have hope.
The process of writing and reading their poems out loud, however, helps to overcome their traumas and makes them feel listened to by the world.
"What would you say to those people who believe poetry is useless?" I asked her. According to Clanchy, most of her students already enjoy poetry, because as it's on the Internet and social media, it's not seen as something old-fashioned ("I just have to convince them to write it") And as for adults... "forget about them, they are wrong. I deeply believe that poetry makes you cleverer and kinder."
Next, Nil Barutel (manager and consultant) and Nicolás Barbieri (UAB IGOP) presented the "Engage!" guide, where they talked about how to promote the participation of young people within literature. "Cultural rights are the younger brother of human rights," said Nicolás Barbieri. Rights that go beyond accessing culture, but also taking part, training, creating, and making decisions.
According to Nil Barutel, "we wanted it to be a meeting point for people who work in this field" and divided the guide into three sections: design, implementation and evaluation.
In short, it is very important to take into account the interests of youngsters and allow them to decide on the projects they want to carry out. This way they will be emotionally involved, gain trust and create links amongst them. After all, "there are many ways to approach literature"
On the project website, you will find a lot of projects and resources (and it will be an active database). https://engagenow.eu/ca/resources/